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Vanderbilt 2020 Football Mail Bag #10: Answers to Your Questions

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Letters... we get letters... we get sacks and sacks of letters...

Daily life in New York City Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Question from JAinTX:

Which scenario would you have taken at the beginning of the season? I’m getting cautiously excited that one of these is potentially in play.

1) VU goes 6-4, plays in a bowl game, and the heat under Mason dissipates. This means we likely beat a ranked team and most likely, them.

2) VU goes 1-9 beating only Tennessee, prompting the Vawls to fire their coach just weeks after giving him an extension. Despite a winning record against Rocky Top, Mason is relieved of his duties.

Answers from AoG:

DoreonthePlains: A scenario where VU goes 6-4 against an SEC-only schedule would have put Mason in SEC COY discussions. I would have taken it in a heartbeat because it would have meant that Mason was being held back by staff limitations that were somewhat plausibly due to financial constraints. I do not like option 2 because I never like seeing Vanderbilt lose, but I can find comfort in it. Like Stan, the likely loss of Fitch saddens me. Hopefully, we end up with a very good offensive mind and play-caller in the presumed shakeup.

Stanimal: While I can appreciate speculation as to how I’d feel about situation 1, I don’t think that was ever a remote possibility. This program needs fresh blood badly at this point. My only concern is that it may cost us the first truly exciting offensive coordinator I’ve seen in seven years. He’s as responsible for our offensive production as anyone, and it’s going to be brutal if we lose him as an assistant under a new regime, which is likely.

Tom Stephenson: Look, I don’t think Mason is the guy, but I’m not so anti-Mason that I would take 1-9 with a win over Tennessee instead of 6-4. This is ridiculous.

Andrew VU ‘04: #2 for the win!

Question from Rubber Hell:

A common refrain when a coach leaves... is that they left the cupboard bare for the staff inheriting the program. Rightly or wrongly, Franklin was charged with this.

Question: Assuming Mason doesn’t return next year, and considering all of the action the transfer portal is seeing … is Mason leaving the cupboard bare for the new coach? Are we in better or worse shape, talent-wise, than in 2013?

Answers from AoG:

DoreonthePlains: I think we have a number of very good pieces, but it really depends on what happens with transfers. If no one else of note leaves and if the opt outs do not transfer, it will be really interesting to see what seniors take advantage of the extra eligibility. Really, it is hard to know much of anything about how the roster will look for next season with all the uncertainty. We are definitely in worse position on defense, but the offense is significantly better with Seals, Henry-Brooks, Marlow, Bresnahan, Abdur-Rahman, Johnson, Pierce (maybe), and the OL (IF opt outs return). I think there is a decent chance that our starting 11 on offense would literally all start over 2014’s starting 11. The OL is the only place to even hesitate.

Stanimal: We are in worse shape than we were in 2013, but the cupboard is not bare and that’s because we don’t have to answer any questions at quarterback... for now.

Tom Stephenson: I think at most spots on the field, we would be in worse shape going into 2021 than we were in 2014 — there’s no Adam Butler on the defensive line, or Zach Cunningham at linebacker, for instance. But the one glaring exception to that is quarterback: Ken Seals is better than any of the quarterbacks who took a snap for Vanderbilt in 2014 and I don’t even think that’s debatable. Hell, Mike Wright is probably better than any of the quarterbacks from 2014. And that could actually go a pretty long way.

Andrew VU ‘04: The cupboard was not bare for Mason, and it won’t be for the next guy. We’ve got a QB. The new guy can find the rest. Of course, other than at QB, Mason will have left it more bare for the new guy than it was when he came in (and the Ol’ Bald Poach poached a bunch of our best commits and took them with him to the State Penn).

Question from OldGold&Black:

If Brooks is injured, who will be backup RB (assuming Rocko starts)? Does offense then go AirRaid and attempt 40+ passes with Seals, go RPO giving Wright at least 20 snaps, or cancel game? What “should” they do, what “will” they do?

Answers from AoG:

DoreonthePlains: Ja’Veon Marlow is back from suspension. He starts with Griffin as the backup. Nothing changes, though Marlow is not as explosive or good at catching out of the backfield. Although, I say he is not the backfield receiving option, but they have used Marlow in the slot. So I could be wrong there.

Stanimal: I don’t think you abandon the running game. I actually like the idea of using Wright more on RPOs situationally. Wright and Seals seem to have a good rapport with one another where egos aren’t really detracting from their production, and they both seem comfortable in their roles. Furthermore, I have been very encouraged by Todd Fitch’s schemes. I think he’s got some ability to be creative. I’d like to see that continue because I really do think both quarterbacks have a future at Vanderbilt in some capacity.

Tom Stephenson: Ja’Veon Marlow is the starter with Rocko Griffin as the backup... but hell, I wouldn’t mind throwing the ball 40 times.

Andrew VU ‘04: Ja’Veon “Dr. Faustus” Marlow starts. Rocko “Modern Life” Griffin backs him up.

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Should we try to get Mike Wright on the field more? If so, how?

Answers from AoG:

DoreonthePlains: Absolutely. I would hold back on the really fun 2-QB trick plays since there is no plausible way we score enough to keep up with Florida, but he can clearly operate a section of the playbook. I want to see fewer pre-determined give-keep plays. Put Wright in the game and have him reading the defense. If he messes up, so what? The freshman needs to learn, so take the training wheels off. They have mostly removed them for Seals, and he is exceeding expectations. So, yeah, put Wright out in the open field where his speed can really shine. The red zone looks help make the defense defend sideline to sideline. He has a strong arm, so make them defend sideline to sideline and a long length of the field a few times.

Stanimal: Yes, and we should do it by doing exactly what we did against Kentucky. The only change I might provide is that we should do it in other situations on the field and not just in the red zone.

Tom Stephenson: No, have we learned nothing from 2014?

Andrew VU ‘04: Yes. I see no reason we cannot turn him into Hines Ward 2.0.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

Would Vanderbilt athletics find success in branding itself as Nashville’s (college) sports team(s)? I haven’t been back to Nashville in ~1.5 years due to COVID, but I remember having seen more billboards for Belmont’s basketball programs than for Vandy athletics. I understand Vanderbilt wanting to retain an air of exclusivity- do you think that is prudent?

Answers from AoG:

DoreonthePlains: They have very weakly tried to do so. It fails, though, when the teams are bad, and the marketing budget is tiny/misused. The idea of parterning [editor’s note: though I do mild copy editing of these mail bags, I’m keeping this spelling error in, as it brings me joy] with the 2nd most prominent sports radio station was smart on the surface, but the signals for 830 AM, 93.3 FM, and 101.9 FM are so weak that most of greater Nashville area get none of them clearly. For comparison, I used to listen to 1510 AM broadcasts of basketball games using a clock radio in my Auburn apartment before the SEC Network. I could listen to games about 300 miles away 8 years ago. Now, you have to use an app if you want to listen in Bowling Green, KY or (probably) Cookeville or Clarkesville.

Stanimal: Vanderbilt doesn’t know how to market athletics to the city. It’s largely depended on the coaches to do that for them. James Franklin was excellent at it. Bryce Drew was good at it as well (he just wasn’t a very good coach). Tim Corbin is the absolute guru at it. The truth is that Vanderbilt does not understand the value of a Nashville sports fan base, and a lot of that has to do with who Vanderbilt is trying to attract to its school. As much as people may take offense to this, their target audience is largely outside of the Nashville area. For whatever reason, they can’t seem to appreciate that you can have it both ways. It’s why the school desperately needs a new approach to its fundraising, marketing, and athletic management. Unfortunately, most of the University’s actions appear to be either stagnant or regressive in nature. Maybe it’s new faces coming in during COVID, maybe it’s apathy, but whatever it is, Vanderbilt fans and alumni are deservedly skeptical about any lip service they may be getting from an athletics standpoint right now.

Tom Stephenson: I mean, it would be better than what they’re currently doing, which is being a venue for Georgia and LSU fans to hang out and drink for a few hours in between trips down Broadway on pedal taverns.

Andrew VU ‘04: Depends. How many bachelorette parties are looking to go to sportsball games?

Question from Parlagi:

What fundamental underlying changes are needed in the next two or three years, and do you expect any?

A year ago this week, Malcolm Turner made this statement while retaining Derek Mason:

“Look, this has been a disappointing year, without question. But we are going to focus on root causes. We have had 50 years of routine kick-the-can coaching changes without accompanying the fundamental underlying change. And out of respect for those who truly support Vanderbilt football and with the focus on building a successful and sustainable football program, this is a cycle that we really need to break.”

Now Turner’s gone, and the biggest changes this year seemed to be releasing a Strategic Action Plan™ and disposing of Athletics Communications. Did the motivation for underlying change leave with him?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m not going to say Turner was right, even though that quote is of course correct, as it’s not a binary. You can both address the root causes while realizing Mason is not the guy. That was a well worded red herring, as Turner knew he wouldn’t be allowed to pay Mason’s buyout after having paid Drew’s buyout. Do I expect any changes for the football program (other than getting a new HC)? No.

DoreonthePlains: Turner was right. I am not sure his ouster says anything about not having motivation for those underlying changes. I think it is hard to judge much of anything in the last 9 months since a large chunk of it was spent with “interm” tags on both the Chancellor and Athletic Director. COVID also has threw the largest wrench possible into many things, including already finalized plans like the football locker upgrades. I am encouraged by Diermeier along with the hires of Tommy McClelland and Kristene Kelly.

Stanimal: Building off the previous question, I think Malcolm Turner was a terrible fit for Vanderbilt, but I can appreciate those that were excited about him trying to chart a new course. The Mason retention in my mind was one of pure necessity.

Looking back at the circumstances Vanderbilt dealt with after David Williams retirement, here’s essentially what you had. The press put a black eye on Zeppos (which he deserved). Zeppos goes out and makes an unconventional hire and declares him to be his guy. Zeppos then leaves him as a lame duck by announcing his own retirement. Turner, who was tasked with a major rebuild, starts spending/talking about spending a bunch of money. Vanderbilt has no actual leadership at that point. The powers that be who are essentially wards of the school at that point don’t like the idea of major dollars getting spent under interim leadership. The relationship sours and becomes tenuous. Diermeier is named as the new Chancellor, but he has to finish his old position before he comes. There is no possible way you can remote manage, so the caretakers remain in play. The caretakers essentially won the power struggle. The problem is that none of them have any idea what they are doing with athletics, and then COVID hits. So you have these decision like the athletic communications department fiasco where the parties didn’t exactly play the chess to figure out how that was going to go. Couple that with the neglect of the facilities, which was compounded over years, and it was just a recipe for disaster.

That being said, I don’t think the motivation for improvement went out the door, but it needs directed and focused leadership. That’s part of why I find Diermeier’s hiring of Tommy McClelland to be interesting. He sees what needs to happen and found someone who had done it at another university. I think Dr. Kelly can probably help integrate the plan and alleviate the concerns with a notoriously fickle faculty who has a sizable voice in the process. The point being, for the first time in about three years, we have actual bodies in leadership positions with some sense of obligation to one another. We can debate about the effectiveness of those bodies, but considering we are at the nadir of our football program, and are somewhat better but still building basketball back, I am content to see how this plays out. My only hope is that they don’t throw their hands up in the air and say we’re just waiting to see how COVID comes out, because that foolishly assumes that the game has not fundamentally changed and is delayed. COVID has changed everything and they need to start working through it, not waiting for it to pass.

Tom Stephenson: I think Malcolm Turner’s biggest failure was that he took the Bryce Drew path of assuming that he could fundamentally change Vanderbilt, whether that took the form of begging the graduate schools to allow in whatever transfers he felt he needed or thinking that Vanderbilt would be cool with hiring a driver to take you to Memphis, then ditching the driver and fetching a Learjet to take you back to Nashville. I mean I realize I-40 sucks, but come on. That said, the big difference now is that the Chancellor seems to be wanting to drive change and that’s something that just wasn’t true when Nick Zeppos was in charge. In one sense, Candice Storey Lee plus Daniel Diermeier might be a better deal than Malcolm Turner plus Nick Zeppos.

Question from JesseCuster44:

What is the worst plausible thing that could happen when parents are let in to watch the UF and UT games?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: I had to think before including this question in the mail bag. I mean, you are asking ANCHOROFGOLD.COM writers to think up hypothetical worst case scenarios. I have to assume our responses would range from the tame (the Bane stadium scenario) to the apocalyptic (lifetime contract extension for Derek Mason). I’ll step back, see what the rest think, and then give my answer at the end of this post.

DoreonthePlains: The parents show up with signs in support of Derek Mason and convince the administration that the players all love Derek Mason and want him to remain coach. Of course, at halftime, half the team transfers for reasons... likely those Stan presents below.

Also, it should be noted that since they opened it up to non-student attendees, the SEC has required that 500 tickets (the minimum for this season) are made available to the visiting teams. These are supposed to be mainly for parents and families for the visiting team, but those parents could also be subject to a lot of abuse from losers supporting Florida and Tennessee. Personally, I hope we get to see Robert Seals clothesline some drunk idiot in checkerboard overalls.

Stanimal: The worst plausible thing that could happen is Robert Seals walks in to Vanderbilt Stadium for the first time, cannot find a functional urinal, fully understands the abyss of a problem that the stadium presents, and tells Ken to consider transferring.

I mean there’s obviously way worse things than that, but I’m not a doctor; I’m a damn sports blogger.

Tom Stephenson: The worst plausible thing that could happen is that they, like so many Vanderbilt season-ticket holders on Thanksgiving weekend, turn into Tennessee fans.

Andrew VU ‘04: After careful consideration, I’mma go with this: Our hets become so wet that science can no longer distinguish Vanderbilt fans from water molecules. That and spontaneous human combustion. Well, would you look at that... none of us even brought up Covid, as Dolly Parton and Vanderbilt scientists may well have just saved us all in the near future. “Workin’ 9 to 5...”